Thursday, 31 October 2013

The British Museum, and the British Weather

I forgot, when I was booking my train tickets to go to London for the Kickstarter party, that the clocks would be going back on Sunday morning, and I had anticipated that I  might be a wee bit hungover, and wanting a lie-in. I was also holding out hope I might be able to meet up with a friend, too, so I'd booked a ticket for 1pm.

As it happened, I wasn't hungover, didn't need the lie-in (just as well) and my friend wasn't free. so I did what any sensible person would do, and went to the British Museum. I like the British Museum.

Painted Drinking Cup, Athens, 460BCE
They have lots of interesting stuff, and it's free to get in, so you can pop in when you've a spare hour or so, and just browse a little.

This time, I mostly wandered around the ancient Greek sections - I don't recall having seen the Bassae Frieze before -
Detail of Bassae Frieze (approx 400BCE)
I particualrly liked these footsoldiers on the Neiried Monument, peering over their shields.
Detail of Frieze from the Neried Monument (Lykia, 380 BCE)
And the magnificent horse from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. 
I gave the Parthenon marbles a miss, and wandered on to ancient Ninevah. I think it was Ninevah, anyway.

Then, a couple of hours on a train (and a  lot of time sitting on platforms waiting for trains) and home. Given the weather forecast, I was glad to be travelling on Sunday and not Monday, when they were threatening apocalyptic storms.

Monday, 28 October 2013

In Which There is Much Music, and Love, and Friends Old and New

Over a year ago, I went to the amazing Gig and Art Show which was one of the rewards for Amanda Palmer's Kickstarter. And through a newsish friend I met on twitter and at that gig, I got an invitation to one of the Kickstarter House Parties, which took place on Saturday.
Mary Wollstonecroft

And Oh, it was fun. It was held at Newington Green Unitarian church, which is a very long established Unitarian (formerly Dissenters) church, dating back to the early 18thC. Mary Wollstonecraft was a member of the congregation there, and there is a graffiti portrait of her outside. It was also the first religious establishment n Britain to refuse to carry out any weddings, until gay people have equal marriage rights with those who are straight. So, all in all, a good and welcoming venue!

I was a little later arriving than I'd planned, due to First Great Western's inability to stick to their own timetable, but fortunately the party started a couple of hours before Amanda was due to arrive.

Amanda (and friend)
I wasn't quite sure, at first, whether I'd found the right place, but when I went into the building and the first person I saw was an incredibly elegant woman in an evening gown, FreakAngels tattoo and bottle of champagne in one hand, I knew I must be in the right place.

I only knew 7 or 8 of the 40 people at the party, (well, that's all I knew when I arrived. Later . . more than that!) While we were waiting for Amanda to arrive we did all the things you do at parties, chatted, drank, ate, founded a new religion...

The religion will be rolling out worldwide as soon as we can think of a really good acronym and a reliable source of communion absinthe. I think. I was enjoying myself too much to remember the details.

The Grooms await their Bride
There was music, too, even before Amanda arrived. Clara (our hostess) and several other guests had brought instruments and talents.

When Amanda arrived, she spent a little time mingling, then we all drifted through to the church. And around that point, it was decided to hold a ninja wedding, for three of the house party guests, Thomas, Meta and Aurelien.

With help from flower-girls, ring bearer, holders-up-of -the chuppah, photographers  and such, all  recruited from the guests.

Presenting the rings
(In case you are wondering, the chuppah was an (approximately) 70 year old, one-eyed fox fur stole named Nick (after Nick Fury).)

While the vows were being written, the rest of us sang some hymns (All Things Bright and Beautiful, and 'We Will Rock You', but not Bohemian Rhapsody,)

Amanda in the Pulpit
The Bride was radiant, and the vows were beautiful, and there was much love and laughter. I felt it was a privilege to be there.

Amanda and Meta duetted with 'What a Wonderful World', then, like all the best wedding, there was more partying.

We were treated to a fairy tale, and then Amanda played and talked to us, about love, and music, and her visit to Palestine, and then sang to us,  including 'Coin Operated Boy', 'Map of Tasmania' 'Vegemite', and a candlelit rendition of 'Hallelujah'.

And more mingling, and conversation, and hugs. And people sitting on other people's shoulders (well, if we're honest, mostly people sitting on Random Dave's shoulders) That one may have involved more absinthe, in at least one case.

 And, well, FUN.

The party ended all too soon,although even the clearing up stage, being in such good company, was more fun than the average party. (admittedly, the average party does not involve mugs of champagne)

I know that some of the other guests went on, later, to the White Mischief Hallowe'en Ball. I would have loved to go, but one must (occasionally) accept one's limitations, and I've sadly never really mastered the art of going without sleep, so I ended the evening asleep in a rather dull hotel, rather than partying with beautiful zombies and vampires.

And feeling very grateful that I had the opportunity to go to such a great party. Thanks again to Amanda, for coming to play to and with us, and to Clara who organised it all, and trusted us all to come, and pay our share.

 I think (and hope) that Amanda enjoyed it too.

(My full photoset is here ) Another nice thing which happened at the part was that Hijo told me that there is an article in this week's New Statesman magazine about amanda's relationship with her fans, which includes a photo from the London Kickstarter show.. which was a nice way of reminding me of where this whole party started..)

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Fortunately, The Milk (Or, What I Did On My Birthday)

I was feeling a little pessimistic about Tuesday, as it was my birthday, one of the ones with a bit fat 0 on the end, but I am fortunate in having some very good friends, one of whom booked tickets for us to go to the Foyles event  of Neil Gaiman reading the whole of his new children's book, 'Fortunately the Milk' at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster, and another friend came over too, and was generous enough to take me out for (a truly superb) lunch, so I began to feel more cheerful.
Birthday Candle!

I don't think I can do justice to the lunch. It started with snails, and finished with chocolate parfait and salted caramel ice cream, and Nathalie clearly told them it was my birthday...

There may have been some wine involved, too.

Fancy ceiling
We all met up outside the venue, and without ever quite deciding to do so, we wound up waiting for the doors to open, which meant we were very close to the front of the queue and able to sit in the front row once they let us into the hall. Inevitably, we bumped into several friends and acquaintances. The hall is an amazing venue - huge auditorium with a massive dome (and a stonking great pipe organ!) and has  a fascinating history -

Andrew O'Neill
It was built  on the site of the old London Aquarium, to mark the centenary of John Wesley's death, and opened in 1912. The first ever meeting of the UN General Assembly took place there, and it has hosted speakers as diverse as Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama (not all at once, obviously)

And now Neil Gaiman.

This was no ordinary reading. The evening was introduced and compered by Andrew O'Neill, who started out by explaining he had a list of words he isn't supposed to say on stage, which he carefully read to us so we would recognise them when we heard them (including 'Bum', 'Number 2s' and 'Beyonce'), experimented with how loud, high and low we could all sing and let us in a brief but rousing chorus of 'We Will Rock You'.

Then we had music, from TV Smith and Tom Robinson. With some audience participation.

It was a lot of fun, and all before Neil even came on stage.

Once he did, things got even better. Which was quite an achievement.

Chris Riddell, who illustrated the (UK) version of the book was there to draw pictures as the story progressed - lovely pictures, especially the careful labelling to ensure that we could not miss the Milk. (after all, as Professor Steg says, "Where there is milk, there is hope")

Neil read the whole of 'Fortunately the Milk', with help from friends who played the Green Globby Aliens, Pirates, Worshippers of Splod, Wumpires, Ponies, Dwarfs and Space Dinosaur Police Officers.
Grumpy Pirates, as read by Mitch Benn and Tom Robinson

I thought my Dad was the World's Best Reader of Bedtime Stories With Funny Voices, but I think Neil may just have beaten him. (although to be fair, my Dad has never had the opportunity to read to 2,000 people, supported by such a talented cast)

It's hard to pick out a favourite part of the evening,
Lenny Henry, Space
Dinosaur Policeman
but I think one of the true highlights has to be the moment when Neil read out "Ah-Ha!" and a small child in the audience responded with a loud and triumphant "AH HAA!", and brought the house down. It was such  lovely proof that the s/he was really absorbed in the story!

One of the final special guests was the lovely Lenny Henry, who appeared in what I am sure will come to be known as a landmark performance in his acting career, as the Galactic Police Dinosaur. (lots of people can play great Shakespearean roles. Not eveyone can manage a Galactic Police Dinosaur)

Tash, Andrew O'Neill, TV Smith, Mitch Benn, Neil Gaiman, Niamh Walsh,
Lenny Henry and Siobhan Hewlett
all too soon, the story came to an end. I'm not sure who was having more fun - the 10 or so people on stage, or the 2,000 or so in the hall.

The final treat of the evening was a brief appearance by Amanda Palmer herself , who performed her 'Ukulele Anthem' (with an extra milk-related verse)

A perfect end to a perfect evening.

It's true what Neil said on his blog, though.There were no ladies jumping through rings of fire, and no human sacrifice. Although the milk had a close call.

My friends and I then took a walk through Trafalgar Square to admire the giant blue cock, and finished the night with dim sum.

So, based on my experience, I would say that if any of you are considering turning 40 in the near future, and are feeling down about it, there are a few simple steps you can take to combat those aging blues:

1. Make sure you have some amazing friends who will provide good company, and treats.
2. Get Neil Gaiman to write a new kids book and read it to you with a large backing ensemble.
3. That's it.

Honestly, if I had known turning 40 would be this much fun, I would have done it years ago

Full set of photos here

(Edited to add in video of Neil talking about the book)

In Which we Party. With Music and Food.

I have written before about seeing Bitter Ruin - the first time when they supported Amanda Palmer at one of her London gigs, and several times since then, as support act and in their own right.

Georgia and Ben (AKA Bitter Ruin)
On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to be at a house-concert-party hosted by Mike and Sue (who also hosted the party with Mitch Benn, which I went to last month).

There were lots of lovely people there, and Sue had cooked up a storm, and there was lots of time for mingling and conversation before the music started.

Despite threatened rain, the weather remained good enough to allow them to play outside, under the bunting, which was lovely.

Ben and Georgia had asked in advance for requests, but rather than prepare a detailed set list, they instead let us chose the order in which they played, via a game of 'pin the tail on the set-list' which worked remarkably well!

As the evening wore on, and it got darker and cooler, the party moved indoors and acquired more hats, with regular hat-swaps between songs. It all made perfect sense at the time.

Bitter Ruin played us lots of old favourites, as well as songs from the new album (produced via Kickstarter funding).

It was a great show, and lovely to have the opportunity to chat with Ben and Georgia, too.

After the concert finished, the party continued - with ukulele music, and a game of twister, and more hats.

A good time was, as they say, had by all. (and thanks again to Mike and Sue for their hospitality!)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

More Fun - With Museums and Romans and Squid

After lunching at the Savoy*, I decided to go to see London's Roman Amphitheatre, which is underneath the Guildhall in the City. As an added bonus, they are currently having a  exhibition of |Victorian Inspired modern Art - Victoriana.

The museum is in a newer part of the building - and when they were putting in the foundations, back in the 80s, they discovered the remains of a Roman Amphitheatre (as one does). And so they kept it there, in the basement, and built the rest of the new gallery over the top.

I have to admit that, as Roman Amphitheatres go, it's not hugely impressive, as the pieces which are left are only about 12 inches tall, (although there are some wooden drains, which is quite impressive) but i love the idea of it being there, under the Guildhall. and they have made an effort with the presentation, with lots of wireframe impressions of what the structure would likely have been like, to give you a sense of scale.

The Victoriana exhibition was a completely different kettle of fish. Sadly they would not allow photographs, so I can't show you - but there were pieces by Grayson Perry and Jake and Donos Chapman, there was a wedding cake made entirely from hair, a modified Victorian engraving of a woman with tentacles instead of legs) and  my favourite piece, one by Tessa Farmer, which features her trademark skeletal fairies, riding bees and butterflies, and armed with hedgehog spines, attacking a Victorian marble statue. It was beautifully disturbing.

Contrast: New and Old
Then there was the portrait of the lady with a squid instead of a face, a wonderful set of Alphabet prints and some original art from Alan Moore's 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'.

Great stuff.
The following morning I decided to go back into the City, to visit the Museum of London, and in particular their exhibition of the Cheapside Hoard.

Before going to the museum I wandered around a little, enjoying the contrast of modern and not-so-modern London. And just near to the Museum I found a little garden called Postman's Park, which is the site of "G.F.Watts' Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice".

Apparently, Watts was a successful Victorian artist, who painted portraits of many of the great and the good (or at least the successful) and came to believe that ordinary people who behaved in heroic ways should also be remembered, and set up the memorial to do so. The memorials are all tiled plaques - the earliest ones designed by de Morgan, the later ones by Royal Doulton - and although the project stopped after Watts' wife dies in the 1930s, there is one much more recent memorial, to a gentleman who died in 2007, saving a child from drowning.  Despite the sometimes florid wording of some of the plaques, it's a moving place. I had it almost to myself.

The museum visit was interesting - the Hoard itself was discovered by workmen in 1912, and is believed to have been buried in the late 17th Century - it consists of hundreds of uncut jewels and pieces of jewellery from the 16th and 17th Cs, and may have been the stock in trade of a local goldsmith. There are some amazing pieces - long, intricate gold and enamel necklaces, carved jewels, a tiny pocket watch set in a single emerald, numerous brooches and pins - there was high security and one could not take photographs, but the museum has some here.

I also made a whistle-stop tour of the rest of the museum, which has exhibits ranging from the remains of prehistoric beasts, to remnants of Roman Londinium, Viking artefacts, through to medieval pilgrim badges, medieval tiles still stained with soot from the Great Fire of London, right through to  some of the costumes from the Olympic opening ceremony.

Oh, and the Lord Mayor's Coach.

And a Dalek.

I would have liked to stay longer, but I had a party to get to.Which is pretty good, as reasons to leave go!

(*Please note the oh-so-casual name drop)

Monday, 14 October 2013

In Which I Have Lunch with Neil (and a Lot of Fun)

It's been a busy weekend.

It started on Thursday evening, when my friend Cheryl came round for supper, and arrived bearing Croatian wine and chocolate.She's blogged about it here - The wine and chocolate were both delicious, and the evening made a lovely start to a weekend of fun things!

On Friday I got the train to London, to go to a 'Literary Lunch' with Neil Gaiman, at Kaspars at the Savoy. I had dithered a bit before booking it, as I've been fortunate enough to go to several of Neil's events already this year, and it did seem rather extravagant,  but I decided that I wanted to go despite the extravagance, and that the fact I am about to have a birthday with 0 on the end of it was as good an excuse as any...

I have never been to the Savoy before. It's dead posh. And Kaspars is a rather lovely Art Deco styled restaurant. Beautiful tiles and chandeliers.  I was a bit worried that they might throw me out for not being posh enough, but either they're too polite,or the fact that I wore a dress was enough to put them off the scent!

Neil with Nick Vince
The restaurant has a central shellfish bar and I was seated there, and quickly got into a conversation with the gentleman seated next to me,who turned out to be a writer and actor (he played the Chatterer in 'Hellraiser') and was an excellent dining companion. I was expecting good company - after all, everyone at the lunch was a fan of Neil's, but it is always nice to have one's expectations met or exceeded, isn't it?

Once we were all seated, Neil explained the format - introduction, starters, reading, main course, Q and A, pudding.. And explained that in the Q and A, we had to do the Q's and he would do the A's.It occurs to me that this has been the format of all of Neil's events which I've been to. I wanted to suggest we try it the other way round, just for variety. We could provide answers and let Neil guess the questions, perhaps..

Oh, the food. It was delicious. And so pretty. The starter was a selection of smoked and cured fish - I know there was smoked salmon, and beetroot cured halibut, and gravlax, and some smoked eel. I'm not sure what the other bits were but it was all delicious.

Then Neil read to us from 'Fortunately the Milk'. I think it is just as well that this was while we were between courses, as I expect that snorting with laughter into your meal would be frowned upon at the Savoy. Or possibly a special snorting-with-laughter waiter would appear bearing handkerchiefs and smelling salts to help you calm down.

Neil read from the start of the book, as far as the Walking the Plank. I have been very restrained and not read on, as I am going to the full reading on Tuesday. But it has been a struggle. And I already feel the urge to find suitable children to give copies of the book to!

Then came the main course (which I was too busy eating, to photograph) before Neil's Q and A.

In response to questions he discussed his alternative career choice (Bespoke religions designed - "How do you feel about guilt? Would you like a large pantheon?), His attitude to magic ("As a kid, I was disappointed by the failure of most wardrobes to contain Narnia. But I didn't stop looking") Which raises the question - if it's only most wardrobes that don't contain Narnia, does that mean Neil found one which did? It could explain a lot. That Lamp Post in his garden, for a start...

There was also the question about whether he is nervous, writing new Sandman stories  - Yes, there are millions of people standing, metaphorically  looking over his shoulder as he writes,  The possibility of a sequel to 'Good Omens' - He and PTerry had an idea for a sequal, to be called '668, The Neighbour of the Beast', but  they are both too busy to write it.

Apple Crème Brûlée
Neil also talked about 'Fortunately The Milk' being an pro-Dad book, having inadvertently written a Dad-ist book in 'The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish'. 

The we got dessert - oh, that Apple Crème Brûlée. The Savoy doesn't have Neil Gaiman on the menu every day (at last, I don't think so. Unless they have cloning vats in the basement) but I am fairly sure that the apple crème brûlée is available any day.

The lunch ended slightly abruptly, as the hotel needed to start setting the room up for a later event, but Neil still made an effort to sign things for everyone who wanted things signing, we all drank our tea or coffee and  ate our delicious salted caramel lollipops (and, of course paid our bills) and luncheon came to an end.
Savoy foyer

I'd been in a rush when I arrived at the Savoy, and hadn't had much time to look around. On the way out, I paused to admire the foyer, which has lots of Wedgewood-style friezes, and and photographs and portraits and Chaises Long.

I wandered off into the rain (via the little bit of road outside the Savoy, which,  is, I understand,  the only place in the country where you have to drive on the right. there was a big limo outside, driving (very slowly) on the right, so it must be true!.

Which still left the rest of the afternoon for other adventures...

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Bath Kids Lit Fest 2013 - Part 1

This year's Bath Festival of Children's Literature started last weekend - sadly 2 of the events I booked for were cancelled at the last minute.

Anon. -  circa 1665
Restoration of  King Charles II
 Judith Kerr, author of 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit', as well as the 'Mog' books and 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' sadly had to cancel her event due to ill health (given that she is now 90, this is perhaps not surprising, but it is disappointing, despite that), and then last Saturday I arrived at the Holburne Museum for Dave McKean's event, and was met with the news that he had been caught up in huge delays n the M25 so couldn't make it. 

And then I missed the event with Meg Rosoff as I got stuck at work and couldn't get to Bath in time. So I've only been to 2 out of 5 booked events so far.

On Saturday, as I was already at the museum when I learned about the cancellation, and as  I have never been round it (despite driving past on a regular basis) I decided to use the unexpected free hour to look round the museum.

Its primarily an art museum, so lots of painting, but also has some interesting textiles - I loved this embroidery/applique which depicts the Restoration of Charles II (and the background- you can see him hiding in the oak tree, behind the picture of his in all his majesty!) and dates from around 1665. 

Holburne Museum
There's also a lovely collection of spoons, and some dodgy antiquities picked up by Holburne during his Grand Tour.

It's not a big museum, but I enjoyed browsing the exhibits. And it's a beautiful building!

I also took the opportunity to have a wander around Sydney Gardens - they were laid out in around 1795 (this bridge over the canal was erected in 1800) and were, apparently, very popular with the residents of Regency Bath - Jane Austen included.

It's divided by the railway, as well as the canal, now, but there is a lovely, sweeping bath stone bridge over it, and it is down in a cutting, so it doesn't impinge too much on the park.

I don't think the tennis courts were there in Jane Austen's day, but I dare say the grass, trees, and squirrels were pretty similar (although presumably the squirrels would have been red, not grey.

I was back in Bath on Sunday, to go to David Levithan's event. 

David Levithan
He was reading from his book Every Day, which explores what happens when you (quite literally) wake up in a different body (someone else's ) every day, and when you decide that you want to keep in contact with a person you meet one of those days. 

It's an interesting concept. He mentioned that he definitely  sees, and intended the book to be (among other things) a transgender book, but that he finds it interesting that people talking about the book focus on the gender issues and less on other issues which are equally part of the  concept. (I haven't read the book yet, so I can't comment specifically).

I was also really interested to hear him talk about collaborating with other writers (it's fun!) and to say that he is not a visual writer - he doesn't 'see' how his characters and their rooms and familes look (so found it much less traumatic then his co-writer Rachel Cohn when their book was adapted, when looking at which actors were cast!

It was an interesting event, and I'm looking forward to reading Every Day - the only book of David's which I've read before is Boy Meets Boy.

Friday evening saw me back in Bath for Malorie Blackman's event. 
Malorie Blackman

I've read her 'Noughts and Crosses' series, which are excellent, and of course she is currently serving as Children's Laureate.She is currently promoting her new novel, Noble Conflict, which is a dystopian novel, set in a future society, and explored (so far as I can tell for the reviews and the conversation at this event) what happens when you find out that the Good Guys you've aligned yourself are maybe not-so-good.

In talking about the book, Malorie explained that she is fascinated by questions, and mentioned issues such as the security for the Olympics (guns on the roofs of blocks of flats), CCTV in public spaces (do you believe that if you have nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear) the actions of whistle-blowers such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and also the issue of who owns, and writes history (history is written by the conquerors, not the conquered, and the written history of a literary society ends to survive longer, and to oust, the verbal history of oral cultures.

Malorie also spoke about her role as Children's laureate, and her concern at recent studies showing that many children and teens are embarrassed to be seen reading, and stressed that reading is great - whether you read paper books or e-books, novels or graphic novels or comics or picture books.

As with David's event, I'm looking forward to reading the book, and am glad I made it to the event!

This weekend I shall (all being well) be seeing David Almond and Patrick Ness, although sadly missing Philip Reeve.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

In Which There are Plantagenets and Severed Heads

When I got my brouchre for this season at Bath Theatre Royal, I saw that one week they would be playing host to the Globe Theatre's 'Globe on Tour' productions of all the Henry VI plays - 'Henry VI', 'The Houses of York and Lancaster' and 'The True Tragedy of the Duke of York' I haven't seen any of them before, and I enjoyed the previous Globe of Tour productions which I've seen, so I booked to see all three plays, and last week was at the theatre on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday evenings (The did do 2 matinees on Saturday so it was possible to see all three plays, in order, on the Saturday, but I felt that might be a little too much of a good thing!)

The plays are a bit of a mixed bag, and, I would say, *not* Shakespeare's best, but still worth seeing.

The first play covers battles with the French, and Joan of Arc (who was portrayed with a strong Yorkshire accent, presumably to try to emphasis her rural/working class antecedents, although it made a odd contrast with the French accents of the other 'French' characters. Henry VI (who is of course a child during this period) doesn't speak for most of the early part of the play, but in this production is present on stage, reacting with fear, surprise and so on, to the action. There weren't any severed heads in this production, although a number of characters, including Joan or Arc, wind up dead.

The second to plays flow much more readily into each other - , 'The Houses of York and Lancaster', starts with Henry's politically embarrassing marriage, to Margaret of Anjou, the strong-minded but dowerless daughter of the King of Naples, and goes downhill from there, with internal strife at court (leading to the first of the severed heads.. the Duke of Suffolk - and as the same actor played Jack Cade, he later got to admire his *own* severed head, which must be interesting!

The play also saw Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) - who was played as having practically no redeeming features whatsoever (admittedly, difficult to avoid given the text) but also with an exaggerated limp, crookback and unusable arm - which is no doubt authentic in terms of the Shakespearian production, but did strike me as being a bit over the top - quite apart from anything else, it made it difficult to believe in his military exploits!

The body count rises throughout the plays. Which I suppose is fair enough for a civil war.

Over all, I enjoyed the plays but I can see why the aren't among the more frequently performed of the plays, even the history plays.

The tour included several battlefield performances, in the open air at various civil war locations, which I imagine must have been interesting!